Former worker files age discrimination complaint against City of Groton

A longtime former employee of the City of Groton who was laid off when the city sold its cable business to a private company has filed an age discrimination complaint against the city.

Michael F. Patrick, 56, claims he was passed over for jobs with the city that were later filled by younger people, according to a complaint filed with the Commission on Human Rights and Opportunities.

Patrick worked from 1985 to 2004 as a laborer in good standing in the city's public works department. In 2004, when the city created Thames Valley Communications, he was transferred from public works to a lower paying position as a non-union warehouse worker with TVC, managed by Groton Utilities.

He was laid off by the city with about two dozen others in February 2013, when the city sold TVC.

The city, at that time, had passed a resolution outlining recall rights and opportunities for "separating TVC employees." The resolution was aimed at giving laid-off workers first rights to positions that opened up with the city within 18 months from the date they were laid off. Under the policy, length of employment with the city would help determine who was first notified of openings and considered for the jobs, though the city reserved its right "in its sole and unfettered discretion" to hire that person.

Patrick was among those people retained by TVC after the transfer of ownership, and continues to work for them today, but has been rejected for positions with the city despite his experience and seniority, according to attorney Morris J. Busca, who represents Patrick.

"He's looking to be made whole and regain employment with the City of Groton," Busca said. "As the complaint indicates, one of the positions he applied for was one he had for 19 years."

Two laborer positions with the public works department that opened up in October were among other jobs he was passed over for, Busca said. Patrick was rejected for that position in favor of a 26-year-old and a 24-year-old because he didn't possess a commercial driver's license, the complaint alleges.

Busca said there is evidence to show that in the past, between 2008 and 2011, the city had waived requirements for possessing a CDL at the time of hire for at least four younger employees, including the son of public works foreman Timothy Umrysz.

Patrick, in his complaint, said that after his rejection, he heard that Umrysz told an employee he didn't want to hire Patrick because of his age and heart condition.

Patrick said in the complaint that the only time he was not physically able to do his job was for three weeks he was out of work in 1997 when he suffered an atrial fibrillation episode involving an irregular heartbeat. He resumed his job without any restrictions, he said.

Patrick claims he was passed over for other jobs in favor of younger people. The first offer came in July with openings for apprentice lineman with the electric division of the Groton Utilities. Patrick claims that at an informational meeting, Groton Utilities Director Paul Yatcko responded to a question from an employee about why two "50-year-old guys" were being considered by saying "younger people" would be hired and allowed to work their way up. One of the vacancies was later filled by a 28-year-old former TVC employee, the complaint alleges.

Patrick claims he also applied for positions as a water distribution helper in the water division of Groton Utilities and as a secretary in the Parks and Recreation Department. He admits he was not qualified for the latter but applied to avoid forfeiting his consideration for other recall opportunities.

Mayor Marian Galbraith declined comment on the complaint, citing the possibility of pending litigation.

Busca said he hoped the city would settle the complaint with the Commission on Human Rights and Opportunities rather than reach the point of litigation.

The CHRO has not yet made a decision on whether to dismiss the complaint or retain it for investigation.

Busca said he expects the agency will accept it and order mandatory mediation.

"We're looking forward to that opportunity, it would be at that time we will have an opportunity to talk, exchange information and see whether or not the city is willing to resolve this at a very early stage with little time and little money," Busca said.

g.smith@theday.com

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